Newsroom Midwest Region

Bats are one of the most important misunderstood animals

Endangered Ozark big-eared bats in a cave
Endangered Ozark big-eared bats in a cave. Photo by Richard Stark/USFWS.

Few of nature’s animals are as misunderstood as bats. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to set the record straight and help others understand the importance of bats. Though often feared and loathed as sinister creatures of the night, bats are vital to the health of our environment and our economy. Here you’ll learn more about why bats are so essential, the threats they’re facing, how we’re conserving bats and how you can help create a bat-friendly environment.

The importance of bats

A norther long-eared bat in a cave
A threatened northern long-eared bat in a cave. Photo by Jill Utrup/USFWS.

Bats play an essential role in pest control, pollinating plants and dispersing seeds. Recent studies estimate that bats eat enough pests to save more than $1 billion per year in crop damage and pesticide costs in the United States corn industry alone. Across all agricultural production, consumption of insect pests by bats results in a savings of more than $3 billion per year. While many bats eat insects, others feed on nectar and provide critical pollination for a variety of plants like peaches, cloves, bananas and agaves. In fact, bats are the sole pollinator for the agave plant, a key ingredient in tequila! A third bat food source is fruit, leading to yet another important role in the ecosystem - seed dispersal. Fruit-eating bats can account for as much as 95% of the seed dispersal responsible for early growth in recently cleared rainforests.

Threats to bats

Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome
Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo by USFWS.

Unfortunately, bats are declining across the globe. Many bats are needlessly killed because people do not understand the important role bats play in a healthy ecosystem. The need for winter shelter during hibernation puts bats at another disadvantage. Human activity resulting in loss of habitat and disruptions during hibernation are detrimental. Making matters worse, a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome has claimed the lives of more than 5 million bats since its discovery in 2006 and has spread across North America at alarming rates. The fungus can be transmitted from bat to bat, cave to bat and even cave to cave as people inadvertently carry the fungus on shoes, clothing or equipment. Since many bats hibernate in the same caves over the winter, the fungus can decimate an entire bat colony once established.

Conservation efforts

A biologist takes a photo of a cluster of bats in a cave
During bat surveys, biologists take photos of bat clusters so they can count the individual bats without disruption. Photo by Georgia Parham/USFWS.

Across the continent, we’re working with partners to protect bats, research treatments to halt the spread of white-nose syndrome and raise awareness about just how incredible, and vulnerable, bats are. More than 30 bat species are currently listed as federally endangered, threatened or under review in the candidate or petition process under the Endangered Species Act. There are many bat species that have not been researched enough to be able to determine conservation needs. Biologists and researchers complete bat surveys and utilize bands and transmitters to learn more about movements, habitat and lifespans. One recent study lead to the discovery of the largest summer roost for Indiana bats in Missouri - a single tree was providing refuge to more than 150 endangered Indiana bats! 

How you can help

People watch bats exit a cave
Partners watch as bats exit Bracken Cave - the summer home to more than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Photo by Ann Froschauer/USFWS.

Want to do your part to help bats? There are many ways to get involved!

  • Spread the word - Share what you’ve learned about the importance of bats. We can all benefit from a greater understanding of the world around us.
  • Watch for bats - Watching bats fly over you is a great way to further understand and appreciate all they do.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights - Light pollution can disrupt or deter bats. Providing a dark environment can help improve conditions for bats.
  • Plant a garden - Creating a garden will help attract insects that help pollinate plants and feed bats, contributing to the circle of life.
  • Install a bat box - Providing shelter for bats is a great way to promote a healthy environment.